Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More on the Racial Hate Crime in S.C.

More on the Racial Hate Crime in S.C.

It does matter’
Sheriff’s Dept., NAACP talk through hate crimes
By Brian Jarvis

BRIAN JARVIS/Manning Times

Chief Investigator Tommy Burgess of the Clarendon County Sheriff’s Dept. answers questions regarding recent assaults on two African-American women. Nearly 100 concerned citizens showed up for the joint meeting of the Clarendon and Manning chapters of the NAACP Sunday at the Society Hill A.M.E. Church.
The Manning and Clarendon branches of the NAACP deviated from their normal program Sunday to hear representatives from the Clarendon County Sheriff’s Dept. discuss a pressing concern: the sexual assault of two African-American women in the last month and whether the culprits responsible committed a hate crime.

“We’re all aware of recent events,” said Bobby Fleming, president of the Manning branch of the NAACP, to a packed house at the Society Hill A.M.E. Church. “What shocked me was hearing the comments of what was said by one of (the suspects).”

Jeremy Sweat, 24, of Quail Trail Circle and Dustin Evans, 21, of Raccoon Road, both white males, were charged with two counts each of kidnapping, criminal sexual conduct and battery with attempt to kill a 45-year old Summerton woman and a 15-year old girl from Manning less than two weeks later. Both crimes were noted for their brutal and serial nature, and one suspect claimed affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan.

“There’s definitely racial issues that we’re looking at,” said Chief Investigator Tommy Burgess, who first began to classify the attacks as hate crimes after a round table discussion with the U.S. Marshall Service and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

Outlining the chronology of events leading up to the July 3 assault, Burgess noted the Sheriff’s Dept. had one of the suspects in custody within 12 hours due to tip-offs from neighbors and residents.

“You would not believe the outpouring we’ve had from this community, and that’s what we need,” he said.

Burgess also said that during an interview, Sweat claimed that he placed little value on the lives of the targets because they were black and poor. Due to their race, the suspect felt, law enforcement would say the crimes simply didn’t matter.

“Well, folks, it does matter,” Burgess insisted. “These guys are violent. They don’t deserve to be on the street.”

According to Burgess, the attacks fit the description of a hate crime defined by the U.S. Congress in 1992 as “motivated by hatred or prejudice based on race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.”

Since the crimes became public, at least four African-American women and one Asian woman reporting being approached by the two men, and Burgess encouraged others to come forward as well.

“Yes, there’s a stigma attached. We’re trying to overcome that. We want to assure victims of their safety and get them the counseling they need. We want to heal them,” Burgess said. “But with (the suspects) being in jail, it’s not over. That’s just the first step. We’ve got to prosecute them and put them in prison where they belong so they can’t harm anyone else. That’s where I need the public and the community to come forward on these issues. I need your help to keep them where they need to be.”

According to the Sheriff’s Dept., Clarendon County has not had a hate crime since the church burnings that took place in the mid-1990s.

“We take a very stiff role against hate groups in this county and will continue to do so,” Burgess said.
While South Carolina has no specific laws for hate crimes, the state ranked third in the nation by number of active hate groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, fueling debate that it may be time to put a hate crime law on the books. In California, for example, hate crimes can tack on an additional 20 years to a sentence.

But in the case of Sweat and Evans, a hate crime classification will likely occur anyway thanks to a nationalized reporting system. As it stands, the suspects face prison sentences of well over a hundred years each.

When Henry King asked how to prevent such incidents in the future, Burgess suggested parenting classes such as the ones offered at the Manning Early Childhood Center.

“There are lots of programs out there that don’t cost a thing but aren’t being taken advantage of,” said Burgess, who also stressed that parents shouldn’t push their responsibilities onto schools.

“We have to take our children back,” Burgess said. “I have two young boys. I’m worried to death what they’re facing. But we’ve got to be positive and teach them while they’re young. I think a child is worth our time.”

When questioned if the assaults could inspire dormant hate groups to commit similar attacks, Burgess said the Sheriff’s Dept. had no knowledge of active hate groups in the area but stays on the lookout thanks to reports updated daily from the South Carolina Information Exchange.

Still, Burgess urged the community to come forward if they hear something, and never to assume their information is not valuable to law enforcement.

“It’s not an ‘I’ game, it’s a team game. All of us work together as a team,” Burgess said. “Call us, we want to hear from you.”

Elder Jack Nelson, who performs legal redresses for the Clarendon County NAACP, complimented the Sheriff’s Dept. afterwards for giving a stellar presentation.

“It was done very professionally in a way that eased tensions,” Nelson said. “South Carolina should give itself a hand for the improvements that it’s making. People are starting to treat each other like people. We’re all in the same boat, and we’ve got to have love and respect for each other to make a better society.”

But perhaps the most impassioned speech came from Dot Josey, wife of Sheriff Keith Josey, both of whom were in attendance.

“It’s our responsibility to our families to go out and tell 10 people what we learned today. One incident should not tear down our relationships,” Josey said. “Every day, our relationships get better. It’s not like the area was 50 or 100 years ago. Our children play together in school, we go to church together, spend holidays together. I can go to your home and feel safe and you can come to my home and feel safe. We need to teach it in our homes; don’t leave it to schools or Sunday school teachers. It might be the key to keep women from being harmed or to keep young men from losing their lives.”

Afterwards, Fleming said that he thought the meeting went well, adding that the local chapters of the NAACP and the Sheriff’s Dept. have enjoyed a long history of working together.

“We left with information we didn’t have before,” he said.

Fleming concurred with the Sheriff’s Dept. that the crimes were isolated incidents of racism and didn’t see cause for further alarm.

“It’s always a concern, but not at the present time,” Fleming said.

Also in attendance Sunday were State Senator John Land, Manning Mayor Kevin Johnson and County Auditor Patricia Pringle. House Representative Cathy Harvin was unable to attend but sent a letter of support and Julius Adger, president of the Clarendon County chapter of the NAACP, was in Washington, D.C. attending a national convention.

If anyone doesn't see it, then where on earth have they been?

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